Ask the Coach: Does Weather affect fibromyalgia?
Answering Questions Sent In By YOU
- “If I’m in a windy place for just a few minutes, it leads to so much pain for days.”
- “Normal room temperatures are not normal for me. Whenever I sit in a class, listen to a lesson or a lecture, I feel cold and that starts to cause more body pain.”
- When we talk about “weather”, we are talking about a lot of things. We are talking about if it’s rainy or dry, what the humidity is, if the sun is shining, if it’s cloudy, what the temperature is, and along with it, there are things like barometric pressure changes. The term “weather” actually represents a lot of different things!
- How does the weather affect our fibromyalgia symptoms? How can you help your body feel better, regardless of the forecast?
Every 10th episode is a special one, where Tami answers YOUR burning questions. Our first listener question is one that Tami hears quite a lot: “Does the weather affect fibromyalgia?” Listen in for some of the science behind the answer, as well as how our own bodies may know things that science hasn’t figured out yet.
Links & Resources
Note: This episode’s show notes and transcript contain affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, we will likely receive a small commission. Read about what we do and don’t promote here.
- Google Scholar is a great place to find research studies on a variety of topics related to fibromyalgia.
- Strusberg, Ingrid, et al. “Influence of weather conditions on rheumatic pain.” The Journal of Rheumatology 29.2 (2002): 335-338.
- Bossema, Ercolie R., et al. “Influence of weather on daily symptoms of pain and fatigue in female patients with fibromyalgia: a multilevel regression analysis.” Arthritis Care & Research 65.7 (2013): 1019-1025.
You’re listening to the Fibromyalgia Podcast, Episode 10.
Welcome to the Fibromyalgia Podcast!
I’m your Coach, Tami Stackelhouse. This is a very special episode. I have been looking forward to this episode from the beginning.
[01:00] This is actually my favorite episode, and I am so excited to be doing our first “Ask The Coach”, also known as the “Dear Tami” episode. This is where I get to answer your questions. This is where you send in questions, and I answer them, live, here on the podcast.
[01:21] We have a bunch of really great questions that have come in. If you’ve sent in questions, whether it’s been on the Facebook page or by email or at FibromyalgiaPodcast.com, thank you so much! I love your questions, and I love answering them.
If you have questions and you want to send something in, by all means, please do. Just go to FibromyalgiaPodcast.com and under the Contact menu you’ll see the Ask the Coach option and you can send us your question. You won’t have to wait. We will send you your answer right away.
[01:58] This particular question is one that came in fairly recently, but it’s one that I get asked a lot, so I went ahead and chose it. If you send in a question, you won’t have to wait. We will get you an answer, even if we choose to do it live on the show.
[02:16] So, this question — I will leave this anonymous, just in case, but I will still read it to you, so you get the gist of her message.
[02:27] She says, “First of all, I really want to thank you for the podcast. You give me a massive amount of hope and strength to never give up no matter what.”
[02:36] Thank you, that means a lot to me. I love it! Then she goes on with her question:
“I am a young woman with fibromyalgia. I’m also a student. My question is about weather changes. If I’m in a windy place for just a few minutes, it leads to so much pain for days. Also, normal room temperatures are not normal for me. Whenever I sit in a class, listen to a lesson or a lecture, I feel cold and that starts to cause more body pain. I’ve tried dressing warmly, especially in layers but it just didn’t work for me. What would you recommend in this case?”
[03:17] First, thank you so much for your question. There are actually two or three in here, so we’ll do our best to answer all of them.
[03:25] Let’s start with the question about the weather and whether or not the weather affects fibromyalgia.
[03:34] Before doing this episode, I just did a quick Google search. If you guys are not familiar with Google Scholar, it’s a great place to look up research. Just go and type in scholar.google.com. Don’t worry; I’ll put a link in our show notes. You’ll be able to find that at FibromyalgiaPodcast.com/10. That will take you to our transcript and our show notes for today’s episode.
[04:03] Just go to scholar.google.com, and you can actually type in fibromyalgia and the word weather and it will pull up all of the studies related to fibromyalgia and weather. There are actually quite a lot, so I didn’t look through all of them. I did go through the first five or six of them and just took a quick glance at them. The thing I found interesting is that most of them actually looked at only a few components of the weather.
[04:35] As you know, with the weather, just being a person who lives on this planet, when we talk about “weather”, we are talking about a lot of things. We are talking about whether it’s rainy or dry, what the humidity is, if the sun is shining, if it’s cloudy, what the temperature is, and along with it, there are things like barometric pressure changes.
[04:58] So, when we say “weather”, we’re actually talking about a bunch of different stuff. With these studies out there, some looked at more things than others. One study primarily looked at whether it was rainy or not. Did the rain affect fibromyalgia? There was another study that looked at temperature. There was another study that looked at the barometric pressure. Some studies looked at the weather changing, like is the temperature dropping or is the temperature increasing. Others looked at the humidity. There were a lot of different things being looked at.
[05:43] What I found the most interesting — and you can see there are a couple of studies out there and I’ll link to them in the show notes — but there are a couple of studies out there that didn’t just look at fibromyalgia. They looked at other conditions. The study I am thinking of in particular… It had fibromyalgia. It had rheumatoid arthritis. It had healthy control subjects — so people who don’t have any of these conditions — nd then they looked at the weather.
[06:12] What was super interesting to me, is that the groups had different responses. So the people without any conditions, the healthy controls, the weather didn’t affect them at all. They didn’t feel better or worse no matter what was going on around them.
[06:30] Fibromyalgia patients — we were affected more by barometric pressure and a couple of other things, but barometric pressure specifically, which is what I think we are affected the most by.
[06:42] Then the people with rheumatoid arthritis were affected by different things. They weren’t the same things that affected fibromyalgia. Which I think is super interesting because it’s not just a matter of the weather affecting pain. It’s literally affecting our bodies in different ways which affect our symptoms in different ways.
[07:08] When it comes to weather and fibromyalgia, there was actually a pretty popular study that came out a few years ago that very definitively said, at least from the journalists with the way they reported on this particular study — they were basically saying this definitively proves weather does not affect fibromyalgia.
[07:38] That particular study was not looking at barometric pressure. It was looking at whether it was rainy or sunny. What the weather report would be if you were watching the weatherman on TV. “It’s going to be partly cloudy with a chance of rain.” That kind of weather was all that they were looking at, and that did not affect fibromyalgia.
[08:07] At the same time, you could ask any fibromyalgia person on the planet, “Do you think weather affects fibromyalgia?” And you’re most likely to get a very definitive “YES. Yes, weather affects me.”
[08:24] Anecdotally, we know as patients there is something about the weather that affects us. But this one particular study only looked at: Is it rainy? Is it cloudy? Is it a chance of rain? And that did not affect us. And I think that is because I think it’s barometric pressure that affects us the most. I have seen this in my own life, and I’ve seen this in my clients, where the change in pressure is actually the thing that affects us the most.
[08:59] It doesn’t matter whether the barometric pressure is high or if it’s low. The problem is when it changes. When it goes from high to low or from low to high. I had one client that every evening when the barometric pressure changed, her pain increased. For me, my migraines are definitely worse during the fall and during the spring, when there are a lot more barometric pressure changes, as the weather is a little bit more volatile. I am just like, “Be one or the other, I don’t care, but let’s not switch back and forth, because that’s what hurts.”
[09:38] I’ve got clients who are in other areas of the country, where the weather is kind of volatile all the time, where there are a lot of wind storms that come through… and I’ve even had clients who have purposely moved to a different part of the country, so they could feel better. Your life, how you feel, is so important. Because you only get one. You only get one life. You might as well do what you can to be able to live that life in the best way possible. You might need to consider moving if the weather in your area is keeping you from living your best life.
[10:19] I’ve also had people move because of the temperature. I don’t tolerate heat very well. I’ve got other good friends who love the sun and love the heat, and don’t tolerate cold very well. Which is what this listener sounds like. She gets cold, and then her body pain is higher.
[10:39] The problem with getting cold, that you don’t have so much when you get hot, is when you get cold your muscles tense up. It’s a natural physiological response that happens. Your muscles tense up to create warmth. As soon as your muscles tense up with fibromyalgia, it’s like we kick over into this mode where more tension leads to more tension. More clenching of your muscles leads to even more clenching of your muscles, making it even harder for us to relax.
[11:15] What I’ve noticed with my clients who are extra sensitive to cold, is that it is super important to not get cold. If you can do anything about it, whether it’s wearing gloves or wool socks or… For a long time I actually wore thermal underwear all the time, top and bottom, all year round, for a while. You can get wool leggings and tank tops. I used to wear the silk ones because they didn’t take up very much space. They weren’t bulky. My clothes laid nicely over the top of them. I had long underwear underneath all the time keeping me warm.
[12:04] The other thing that you can do is choose the fabrics in your clothes differently. Cashmere is expensive, but I tell you what, that stuff is nice and cozy! Wool is also very warm. A lot of people don’t like wool because it’s scratchy. That’s why I used to wear my silk undergarments—my silk thermal underwear—underneath my wool sweaters. I would have a tank or a crew neck shirt silk undergarment underneath. It’s knit, it’s not silk like shiny, sexy underwear. It’s knit and just happens to be made out of silk fibers instead of cotton fibers. I would wear that because it’s nice and smooth and not itchy. I would put that on and then put my wool sweater over the top.
[13:05] You’ll notice I’m wearing a turtleneck here, if you’re watching this on video today, just to be a little bit warmer with the sweater. Layering is really good, but looking at what materials your clothes are made of can really help with whether it’s warm or not. Again, things like cashmere and wool, those are actually the warmest. Silk is also warm.
[13:30] I know I’m talking about things that sometimes are expensive, but they don’t have to be. Where you get them, the quality… I actually have a couple of wool sweaters that I have had for twenty years, seriously, that are still going strong and look great. Depending on how much you spend and the care you take with them, and also layering the right kinds of fabrics together, can be really great. That is a big one.
[14:02] The other thing you may have to do, because I know this listener already talked about layering, so I would look at what the materials are, right? What the clothes are made of.
[14:12] The other thing you may have to do is actually use something that is warm to keep you warm. That could be things like a heating pad, or it could be the ThermaCare patches [affiliate link] that actually heat up, sticking to your body. You can get those.
You can get little pocket hand warmers [affiliate link]. If you go to camping outlets or if you have an outdoor store where you live, you can buy these thermal packets that you can carry in your pockets, that don’t need electricity or need to be heated up. It’s actually a chemical reaction that creates the heat. Those can be super helpful to make sure you stay warm.
[15:00] Things like drinking hot water or tea or coffee. Obviously, you have to be careful about the caffeine with your adrenals and with your pain levels—you want to avoid caffeine, if you can—but even just hot water with lemon and honey or herbal tea. Peppermint tea is actually what I drink the most: peppermint tea or ginger tea. Those can be really great ways [to warm up] because that warm liquid is going in your belly and heating you up. Eating warm foods like soup, those can also keep you warmer.
[15:34] It’s super important that you’re getting enough calories for your body to burn to feel warm. So, making sure your body has what it needs. Getting enough sleep also helps your body regulate a little bit better. You may actually need something warm if you’re sitting in a cold classroom, and you know it’s going to trigger a flare up. It might be worth investing in some of those pocket warmers or thermacare patches.
[16:05] The other thing I was going to mention is you can also make your own heating pad that doesn’t take electricity by using rice. Go to the store and buy a bag of rice: uncooked, plain, the cheapest kind you can find of rice grains. Then, put them in a little fabric envelope sewn for them—however big you want. You basically make four seams to make a square. Put the rice in there and then just heat that little bag up in the microwave for a couple of minutes, and it stays warm for a while.
[16:45] I use this a lot as a hot pack around my neck. If my whole body is cold, I will put the rice bag on my belly. That’s a secret place to heat your whole body up. If you put the heat on your core—put it on your belly—then your internal organs are warm enough, which tells your body, “I can send that warm blood out to your extremities to keep you warm.”
When you get cold, your blood starts to pool in the areas that are most important. It keeps the heat in the most important parts: your brain and your internal organs, your midsection, your chest, your belly. If you heat up your belly, that tells your body, “Ah! I can send warmth out to the fingers now. We’re not going to die. We can send warmth out to the fingers.”
[17:42] Another trick, my dad taught me this as a little girl, he always said, “If your feet are cold, put on a hat.” It sounds funny, but it’s 100% true because of what I was just saying. You can not live without your head. We are not going to let your head get too cold and have your head fall off because of frostbite. Physiologically, that doesn’t work! Our bodies are going to make sure that our brains stay the temperature they need to stay. We will lose fingers and toes and arms and legs before we allow our brains to get too cold. So, if you put a hat on to help keep your head warm, that tells your body we can send some heat out to fingers and toes and other parts of your body. If you’re not wearing a hat, and you can wear a hat in class, I would absolutely do that and it will 100% help keep you warmer.
[18:39] You may even need to—I was talking about wearing a silk tank top underneath my sweaters—you can also get silk liners for your socks. They sell these in outdoor stores as well, for people that go hiking or backpacking, things like that. You can get super thin silk socks that go on first, and then you put your wool socks on top of them, and that actually keeps you warmer.
[19:10] Hopefully, those are some ideas for you on how to keep warm when you’re cold—but also why it is that you feel worse when you get cold. If you find that… In particular times of the year, particular buildings that you’re in—like this person talking about getting cold in the classrooms. I have another client… When she works at certain places, she was ending up in a bit of a flare when she worked in those particular places. We discovered it’s because it’s colder there. She has to make sure she stays warm enough in those particular buildings.
[19:49] Start being aware of when you’re noticing a flare, and look and see if it’s because you’re too cold. And what are the things that you can do to feel warmer? Can you layer? Can you use different materials in your clothing? Can you wear a hat? Can you wear silk or wool or even flannel undergarments or whatever? Do you need to wear gloves? There are even gloves these days that allow you to use your phone and touch screens. You can get “smart gloves” that still allow you to use your touch devices, which are great. I have a pair and I have them in my coat pockets, so when I put my coat on my gloves are right there. Those things can also be super, super helpful.
[20:37] Alright you guys! Keep sending in your questions. I love answering them. Just go to FibromyalgiaPodcast.com/10 for this episode. You can also go up in the contact menu while you’re there, and you’ll see the Ask the Coach option to be able to send in your questions.
[21:00] As always, I am here to help in any way that I can. If you are interested in talking with a Coach or exploring how a Coach can make you feel better, there is a Find a Coach option on there. I’ve also got copies of my books out there for you to download for free. And you can always look at the episodes on FibromyalgiaPodcast.com to see all of the past episodes, videos, transcripts, the whole nine yards.
[21:28] So, that is it for our very first ten episodes. Thank you very much for being here on this ride. We are in the process of planning the next ten episodes. The 10th episode of each group is always going to be our little “Dear Tami” episode. You’ll find the next one at Episode 20, when we get there. In the next few episodes, I’ve got a bunch of super fun stuff in the works, and I can’t wait to share that with you.
Alright guys, have a great week until you hear from me again, and thanks so much for your support and your love. Bye!
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